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Remote church promoted to 'parish'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 04, 2013

  • Lundy, the biggest island in the Bristol Channel, has been upgraded to its own parish, making the church of St Helen's, left, officially a parish church for the first time in its 117-year history

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Most places of worship capable of seating 600 churchgoers or more would normally enjoy parish church status at the very least.

In some places, such a sizeable temple might even be regarded as a small cathedral.

But mighty St Helen's, on the remote island of Lundy, had never been elevated to such a ranking.

Now that has changed. Lundy has become the UK's newest parish – and as such its giant 117-year-old sanctuary has become a fully fledged parish church.

A special service to celebrate the island's new designation was held over the weekend – thanks partly to an RAF aircrew from Chivenor which flew out the presiding vicar as part of a training exercise.

The island – which sits ten miles off the Devon coast in the Bristol Channel – was formerly part of the parish of Hartland, but in recent years islanders have been applying for an upgrade in status which they believe will recognise the remoteness of Lundy and the importance of the island's huge church.

On Sunday the Reverend Shirley Henderson, vicar of Hartland, was flown in for the day by the RAF, who were using the island's sheer cliffs for training exercises.

Lundy's general manager, Derek Green, said: "It was a historic day for Lundy and St Helen's. It takes a lot of determination and expense to build anything on Lundy – so to think about building a full-size church here in such a remote and exposed location in 1896 is testament to the Reverend Hudson Heaven, who owned the island at the time."

The idea of a 600-seater church on an island that is now home to just 30 people might present ecclesiastical historians with a bit of a mystery. But Mr Green explained that there were good reasons why the heavenly-named priest built such a big temple.

"When he owned the island in the 1800s, he set out a lease for a granite company to quarry here and export the rock for use in the London Embankment, which was being built at the time.

"That meant there were 300 or 400 guys working here," said Mr Green. "So the first thing he built, obviously, was the pub. The second was the church, for which he had a ready-made congregation. In that way he got the weekends – the Saturdays and Sundays on Lundy – all sorted out."

Me Green added: "Although we still need to bring a vicar across from the mainland for any services we arrange, we do have weddings on the island and we believe that now it's a parish church it will open doors for us to have more regular services."

As for the vicar herself, the Rev Shirley Henderson commented: "We are delighted with the creation of the new parish of Lundy – St Helen's is a beacon on the horizon and dominates the skyline as you approach the island."

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